The Commish Online www.thecommishonline.com
Griffey Helps In More Ways Than One?
July 31, 2008
The White Sox have acquired Ken Griffey Jr. from the Reds for Nick Masset and Danny Richar in an effort to add another piece to the major league roster, hoping it will be enough for another World Series appearance this year. It's a low risk move with Alexei Ramirez manning second base right now and, according to Mark Gonzales, Cincinnati has agreed to pay the rest of Griffey's contract for the year. The White Sox would be on the hook for a $4 million buyout next season (or a $16 million club option they will never exercise), so it wouldn't be an entirely free transaction.
The real question is why Griffey? From all accounts, his ability to play center field at age 38 is very limited, and Quentin and Dye are cemented in left and right. After releasing Ozuna and keeping Wise and Brian Anderson on the roster, the Sox really needed someone to help in the infield. With Crede currently on the DL, Uribe is the only guy not in the starting lineup capable of playing second base, shortstop, or third base. Meanwhile, center field, first base and DH will be filled with some combination of Griffey, Anderson, Wise, Swisher, Konerko, and Thome. Wise is a definite reserve and Anderson will continue to be a late-inning defensive replacement with the occasional spot start, but that leaves four full time players for (less than) three spots.
My guess is Konerko will see more bench time against right handers as the Sox can load up with Pierzynski, Swisher (switch-hitter), Thome, and Griffey from the left side. Thome will likely get a few more days off so Griffey and Konerko can get some starts at DH and, thanks to his versatility, Swisher will still find himself in the lineup more often than not.
There is a misconception that the White Sox are fielding an ancient team, but don't confuse slow with old. Konerko can't beat my grandma to first base, but he is only 32 and much of his failure at the plate this year can be attributed to nagging injuries (oblique and thumb) rather than age. After a full offseason of rest, expect a few more "typical" seasons (.275, 28 HR, 95 RBI) from Konerko before he begins to fade. Dye might look like an old man at times but he is just 34 and has played right field like a 24-year-old this year. He is hitting as good as ever and probably has another couple years of solid production ahead of him. Before the acquisition of Griffey, Thome was the only member of Chicago's roster on the wrong side of 35.
Thome is nothing more than a DH, so his imminent departure will be easily replaced (likely by a combination of Dye and Konerko to keep them fresh). One point of interest regarding the Griffey trade: according to the website Cot's Baseball Contracts, Thome's $13 million club option in 2009 would be guaranteed if he reaches 1,100 plate appearances between '07 and '08. He is currently about 169 plate appearances away from that goal - a goal he would likely reach with regular playing time over the last 56 games but one that might be difficult if he begins sitting every other game. This is not to imply that Chicago is doing this purposely to avoid paying Thome next year - they are obviously spending to win now and have a history of loyalty to those close to the franchise (Guillen, Baines, Konerko, etc.) - but if Thome falls short of the 1,100 PA, it would cost the White Sox $7 million in buyouts ($4 million for Griffey, $3 million for Thome) to get rid of the two oldest players on the roster this offseason rather than $17 million and still be "stuck" with a declining hitter who can only DH. Chicago could then use the DH spot to rest the regulars and reload with some long term younger talent.
For the time being, if Konerko and Thome can be good soldiers for the next two months as their playing time decreases, the Griffey deal should be one that produces a few more White Sox winners, possibly with some of them coming in October.